Precarious Kites
(Grace Notes)
About Fear

Children Know of Monsters
I miss Piglet. One of my sons, whose name shall remain locked behind my lips to maintain his late elementary school aged dignity, dressed up as the small pink pig for Halloween many years ago. Of course, I choose the costume – and made it out of a pink fuzzy-footed sleeper suit.
Shopping-Cart Anger (real men)
Not so long ago, before email, students used to leave notes on my car. Sometimes they explained an absence or a late paper. But usually they were sunny things written on a fly-by “Hi! Have a great semester! I’ll visit!” One winter day, I trudge through the snow-meltings and ice to arrive finally at my car. I get in and see a note on the windshield.
The Car Guys
Tarantulas walk across the road just outside the border of Texas. At first, I can’t believe this; I see one shadowed above the hot asphalt skittering straight across and fast. “Did you see that spider?” I ask the boys, who are dubious. After all, we used to tell them that retreads littering the road-shoulders were shed skins of giant ants. It made for long minutes of silence through deserts as they scanned the horizon for huge, robot-like, black insects. Eventually they figured out we were making it up.
We Are A Brave Bunch
I have more snake stories than you can shake a stick at. In college, some boys, trying to make an impression, picked me up and put me in their standard issue, particle board, wardrobe. They told me that their pet boa lived there. It was dark and I said “Ha. Ha. Funny. Let me out now.” Then something large moved over my foot. My roommates were more shocked that the boys had a giant reptile in the dorm than at how loud I could scream.
Scary Veggies and the Koran
Up and down Interstate 25, just off the rickety road that runs north from Denver straight up into Wyoming, corn fields grow and grow. One moment the stalks are eyebrow high to a small child, the next hat-brim high to an adult. Soon comes the time of corn mazes, Halloween scaries, and things that go bump-in-the-night.
The Only One Awake
It starts with the fear. I remember it distinctly – it was focused and clear: I didn’t want to be the only one awake. I’d call to my Mom through the dark of the house, “You still awake?” She’d answer, groggy and drifting “Yes. Go to sleep now…” I’d count to a hundred, and then go into her room to trade pillows – my way of checking that she was indeed still awake. I didn’t want to be the only one.
Jumping Off
I once had a student who was training to be in the military. He was very young, perhaps eighteen, and in response to my standard, narrative, break-the-ice writing assignment of “What is Your Greatest Fear?” he choose to write about heights. I encouraged him to settle on a moment and set the scene. The moment: a hot day during basic training, standing high on a tower platform, his commander barking at him to jump. The details: others in line behind him waiting their turns, others below him up and running to the next station. His turn – go. He jumped. And then his essay ended – one paragraph.
“Mama?” Gabriel says, “Can I talk to you privately?” Here it comes – the parent breath-sink of oh dear, coupled with the parent breath-rise of at least he wants to tell me.
There are bad people. People who steep in deep pools of septic, skewered, and sickening thoughts – they swim, soak, and live there. And sometimes they gather themselves from the slime, move toward the shore dripping and faceless and act on these thoughts.
Fear, Perfect Love, and a Deer
I know a little boy who has a deer in his chest. It lives there, usually small and curled, like a warm brown bean, low and asleep. But, sometimes, the deer rises on thin wobbly legs and stands, eyes as big as the moon for a moment, looks around and shakes in waves of tremble.